The Politics of Sacred Forests in Japan: Shinto Ideology in a Secular Age

Aike P. ROTS (Université d’Oslo) donnera une conférence dans le cadre du séminaire interdisciplinaire « Société et culture du Japon contemporain », le 24 janvier 2019.

Aike P. Rots is an associate professor in Asian studies at the University of Oslo. He holds a PhD from the University of Oslo, an MA degree from SOAS, University of London, and BA degrees from Leiden University. He is the author of Shinto, Nature and Ideology in Contemporary Japan: Making Sacred Forests (Bloomsbury 2017) and the co-editor (with Mark Teeuwen) of Formations of the Secular in Japan (special issue of Japan Review, no. 30, 2017). He has written articles and book chapters on a variety of topics, including modern Shinto, sacred space, religion and politics in Vietnam, and Japanese Christianity. Recently, he was awarded a Starting Grant by the European Research Council for his project Whales of Power: Aquatic Mammals, Devotional Practices, and Environmental Change in Maritime East Asia (2019-2024).

(En anglais)


In this lecture, I will discuss the process by which Shinto has come to be redefined as an ancienttradition of nature worship, and provide a critical analysis of the popular claim that this traditioncontains important resources for overcoming environmental problems today. I will also introduceone of the core concepts in contemporary discourse on Shinto and the environment: chinju nomori. This term refers to sacred shrine forests, which are said to possess important ecological,social and spiritual value. As I will show, these forests are subject to multiple, at timescompeting claims, which reflect different notions of “nature”, and different understandings of therole of Shinto in Japanese society.One of the institutions that has expressed a concern for the natural environment – in particular,the preservation of sacred forests – is the national Association of Shinto Shrines, Jinja Honchō.This organisation consistently seeks to reclaim Shinto’s position in the centre of public space,both literally and metaphorically, by redefining shrine worship as “traditional Japanese culture”and denying its “religious” character. In fact, the current Shinto establishment has close ties tothe ruling government, and actively contributes to the revitalisation of notions of Japan as asacred nation surrounding a divine emperor. How can a worship tradition be simultaneously“sacred” and “secular”? And what is the significance of forests for this contemporary Shintoideology? These are some of the questions that I will address in this lecture.

Aires culturelles Anthropologie Japon

Informations pratiques

  • Jeudi 24 janvier 2019 - 11:00 - 13:00
  • EHESS (salle A07-51), 54 boulevard d Raspail 75006 Paris
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